Centenary Swimming Pools

Site Overview

site name:
Centenary Swimming Pools
James Birrell
date of completion:
Gregory Terrace, Spring Hill, Brisbane, Queensland
Recreation / Sport (REC)
protection status/heritage listing
Queensland Heritage Register (601240)


Unlike the Olympic Pool complex built in Melbourne for the 1956 Games, the Centenary Pool in Brisbane was always intended to create a new kind of public and social place not just reserved for elite athletes. It also followed in the tradition of post-war ‘useful memorials’, built to serve a common purpose but also as an act of commemoration. Architect James Birrell was interested in creating a relaxed and fun atmosphere, as much in tune with Californian ‘kidney’ shaped backyard pools than with the regimented composition of most rectangular public outdoor pools. The tropical landscaping (including Hibiscus, Travellers Palms and Aloes) and loose composition also highlighted that the spaces surrounding the swimming, diving and paddling pools and buildings were of prime importance as places of active community engagement. A sophisticated, two-storey restaurant and kiosk occupied a conspicuous place in the design (since altered), which further gave opportunities for people-watching. And a curved bathhouse of rendered concrete, brick and louvres, on the south-west perimeter of the site added another playful communal amenity. The palette of materials, including off-form and rendered concrete and brickwork with unraked mortar joints, were characteristic of Birrell’s work elsewhere at the time.

The Centenary Pool has been sensitively restored and maintained and was listed on the Queensland heritage register in 1996.

Text adapted from an entry by Hannah Lewi in Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design 1925-1975, Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad (2019, Thames and Hudson).

Architecture Au: Interview with James Birrell

English-born diving instructor Steve Waring coaches Australia’s Commonwealth Games diving squad member Patsy Plowman at Brisbane Centenary Pool, 1962. The pool complex, on Gregory Terrace, Spring Hill was designed by architect James Birrell and opened in 1959. This photograph comes from the collection of the National Archives of Australia. It should be cited as NAA: A12111, 1/1962/33/38.

Aerial view of Centenary Pool, Brisbane, 1963 (State Library of Queensland)